Monthly Archives: November 2014

Strangest Rescue Story of Newport’s Keeper, Ida Lewis

Allan Wood | November 9, 2014 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed

Ida Lewis Rescues a Prized Animal

Ida Lewis rescue painting courtesy of artist John Witt.

Ida Lewis rescue painting courtesy of artist John Witt.

Ida Lewis is Rhode Island’s most famous lighthouse keeper at Lime Rock light in Newport Harbor. Since Lime Rock was completely surrounded by water with a constant current, the only way to reach the mainland was by boat. In the mid-19th century it was highly unusual for a woman to handle a boat, but Ida Lewis rowed her siblings to school every weekday and fetched needed supplies from the town. By the age of 14, Ida had become known as the best swimmer and young rower in Newport. Her rowing skills, strength, and courage were to come into play many times during her life at Lime Rock and its lighthouse. She is credited officially with saving 23 lives during her 39 years at Lime Rock Lighthouse, but many believe the number may be closer to 35, although Ida Lewis never kept records of her lifesaving experiences.

Ida’s rescues were not only limited to people in need. One cold early morning in January, in 1877, three workers were carrying a very valuable sheep along the streets of Newport to its prominent owner. Winds were gusting and the waves were increasing as a storm was approaching the harbor. All of a sudden the frisky animal broke away and ran through the Old Mill Wharf and plunged into the icy waters. The three men followed after the sheep and grabbed Ida’s brother’s newly acquired skiff by Jones Bridge to set after the valuable prize. As they were nearing the sheep, the weather worsened quickly, and they found themselves in danger as the waves tossed around the small craft.

Ida Lewis portrait courtesy of US Coast Guard

Ida Lewis portrait courtesy of US Coast Guard

Ida was sewing by the window and saw the three men struggling in the waves with her brother’s new boat. She then observed a huge rogue wave wash over the tiny boat and capsize it, spilling the men into the freezing waters. She was out the door in an instant, and launching her lifeboat towards the survivors. She rowed as fast as she could as she could here the screams of the frightened three. As she neared the men struggling in the icy waters, she couldn’t help but chuckle from her exhausting efforts, as the attention of the men were still on the valuable sheep, which was still struggling in the rough waves nearby.

She hauled each man into the boat, and then rowed all to shore. They were very grateful to Ida for rescuing them from what could have been a tragic situation. To their surprise, she decided she would oblige the survivors’ need to capture the animal and launched the boat out again in the bitter winds to capture the sheep. She managed to maneuver the boat next to the struggling creature and haul it into the craft to safety. The animal didn’t seem to mind being out of the frigid waters and stayed in the boat as she brought it to the grateful men on shore. Ida’s brother, though angered by the men taking his boat, didn’t press any changes. Ida always loved the story and would frequently tell it years later.

Happy Holidays!

Allan Wood


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